Justice for Bury: Petition launched to fight closure of Bury St Edmunds Magistrates’ Court
- Credit: Gregg Brown
The town’s largest criminal defence firm has voiced fears that access to justice for west Suffolk will be harmed.
The EADT is today launching a petition against the closure of Bury St Edmunds Magistrates’ Court as many voice fears access to justice in west Suffolk will be harmed.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is consulting on plans to close 91 courts across the country, including Bury Magistrates’ and Family Court and Lowestoft Magistrates.
The move would leave Suffolk with just one Magistrates’ court, in Ipswich, and has prompted concern from the legal community.
The largest criminal defence team in west Suffolk yesterday labelled the plans “entirely at odds” with the principal of access to justice, while others have voiced fears an important part of the town’s heritage will be lost.
Daryl Griffiths, spokesman for Burnett Barker Solicitors, based in Bury, said: “Whilst we need to take time to consider all the implications of the proposed changes and our response to the consultation, at first sight, the proposed closure of Bury Magistrates’ Court is deeply concerning for us.
“We would be particularly concerned for those of our clients on the lowest incomes, most of whom do not have access to a vehicle, nor the means to pay the costs of public transport to and from court, or the childcare costs related to attendance.
“There is an overall aspiration set out in the proposals for 95% of citizens across England and Wales to be able to reach their required court within an hour by car.
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“In respect of Bury, the proposals suggest that the proportion of defendants in criminal cases whose travel time by public transport is at least one hour would rise from around 58% to 89%.
“These figures are based on travel from Bury town centre to Ipswich and ignore the many who don’t live in the town centre.
“The proposed changes would leave Suffolk with only one Magistrates’ Court, based in the south of the county, which would isolate many court users, particularly those in rural areas.
“This is entirely at odds with one of the main stated principles behind these proposals, that of ensuring access to justice.”
The proposals would see Bury’s case load would move to Norwich and Ipswich.
The court building, Old Shire Hall, is Grade II Listed, but it is not just the bricks and mortar that concern Bury Society vice chairman Martyn Taylor.
He said: “That site has served as a court for hundreds of years. Bury is a cradle of the law and to lose that heritage would be a great loss.”
A court has sat at the same site since 1614. Mr Taylor added: “The Bury Society will support the petition to fight this closure.
“If it goes ahead yet another important part of our heritage will be lost. The registry office next door has already gone, the records office is also under threat.
“It will not be the same if they turn it into flats, that link to our history will be lost.”
John Griffiths, leader of St Edmundsbury Borough Council, said the plans were concerning. “Like everybody else we were surprised by these MoJ proposals and will be looking into this in greater detail,” he said.
“I am very keen to talk to the government to understand where, among other things, this sits as part of its One Public Estate programme.
“We are anxious to keep a court in West Suffolk, and indeed in Bury, and I commend the EADT for launching its campaign to retain local justice locally.”
The controversial proposals were defended by the MoJ. The Courts and Tribunals Minister, Shailesh Vara, said: “Access to justice is not just about attending court. As we bring in digital technology for better and more efficient access to justice, fewer people will need to physically be in a court.
“This means that we will need fewer buildings, and with many already underused and in poor quality, now is a good time to review the estate.”